Wa­ter on ev­ery­one’s mind

The Review - - News - Mike Weil­bacher Columnist Mike Weil­bacher di­rects the Schuylkill Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion in Roxborough, can be reached at mike@schuylkill­cen­ter.org and tweets @SCEEMike.

Driv­ing back to the Schuylkill Cen­ter from Cen­ter City last Fri­day, wa­ter was on my mind, as that was the day of the soak­ing mon­soon last week, a dreary down­pour that started in the morn­ing com­mute and con­tin­ued well past lunchtime. Driv­ing up Henry Av­enue in the right lane, I al­most lost my car in an oceanic pud­dle near the Wal­nut Lane Golf Club, the golf course just south of Wal­nut Lane. I swear some kid could have surfed in the wake my car made.

I won­dered how­many other pud­dles of that mag­ni­tude had formed up and down the re­gion. And how many base­ments were flooding. And how brown and roil­ing the Schuylkill’s wa­ters were by then. And how down­hill Manayunk was far­ing that mo­ment. And how much more soil my Schuylkill Cen­ter had lost in a ravine be­ing cut through our prop­erty by stormwa­ter runoff pour­ing down Port Royal Av­enue.

Looks like wa­ter is on ev­ery­one’s mind at the mo­ment. Be­cause on the evening of Thurs­day, May 11, Roxborough and Manayunk res­i­dents have a choice of two im­por­tant wa­ter-re­lated events, one a Wa­ter Town Hall, the other a public meet­ing of the city’s Flood Risk Man­age­ment Task Force.

In the first, Coun­cil­man Cur­tis Jones Jr. and the Philadelphia Wa­ter Depart­ment in­vite res­i­dents of the coun­cil­man’s Fourth District to a Wa­ter Town Hall, where you can in­ter­act di­rectly with Philadelphia Wa­ter staff, in­clud­ing Com­mis­sioner De­bra Mc- Carty, the depart­ment’s head, and its public af­fairs gen­eral man­ager, Roxborough’s own Joanne Dahme. Held in the Sharon Bap­tist Church on Con­shohocken Av­enue in Wyn­nefield Heights and start­ing at 6 p.m., you can ask about your wa­ter bill, of course, and its emer­gency loan pro­gram, but you can also ask ques­tions about drink­ing wa­ter qual­ity, the city’s am­bi­tious “Green City, Clean Wa­ters” plan, planned con­struc­tion in your neigh­bor­hood and more.

I might ask about how green in­fras­truc­ture ad­dresses stormwa­ter in a com­pletely new way, as the city has fo­cused in­tense cre­ative energy on stormwa­ter in the last very few years. In fact, I’d love for you to use the phrase “green in­fras­truc­ture” in the meet­ing and watch PWD faces light up — they LOVE talk­ing about this topic, as this is one where Philadelphia is truth­fully a global leader.

As for me, I’m cu­ri­ous how the city is con­tin­u­ing to plan its mit­i­ga­tion of the ef­fects of cli­mate change on our wa­ter sys­tems, es­pe­cially as the Delaware River, and pre­sum­ably the Schuylkill as well, will rise as our oceans do. Yup, the Delaware is tidal, has al­ready been ris­ing slowly and will con­tinue to do so — I’ve seen maps of the near-fu­ture where the air­port has dis­ap­peared be­neath the Delaware River. Penn’s Land­ing might be­come prob­lem­atic, too.

And as data con­tin­ues to show that be­cause of cli­mate change the city will have more, larger storms like Fri­day’s su­per soaker, how does this in­flu­ence the “Green City, Clean Wa­ters” plan? Is the plan chang­ing, adapt­ing with the sci­ence and the mod­el­ing?

Speak­ing of flooding, at the ex­act same mo­ment as the Wa­ter Town Hall on Thurs­day, the city’s Flood Risk Man­age­ment Task Force will hold one of its public meet­ings, this one in the Venice Is­land Per­form­ing Arts and Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, a per­fect match of event and site as the arts cen­ter was built atop a com­pli­cated mech­a­nism for hold­ing onto Manayunk’s flood­wa­ter — a cre­ative so­lu­tion to help prevent Yunkers from be­ing flooded out, as, sit­ting along­side the Schuylkill and down­hill from so much im­per­vi­ous pave­ment, they so of­ten were. “When and why does Manayunk flood?” asks the flier. “What can res­i­dents and busi­nesses do to bet­ter pre­pare them­selves? And what is the task force do­ing about flooding?”

And if you want to make this panel’s eyes light up, ask them about im­per­vi­ous pave­ment, as that is our largest is­sue with wa­ter. In cities and in­creas­ingly in sub­urbs, we have cov­ered the ground with hard sur­faces that prevent wa­ter from per­co­lat­ing un­der­ground, so all of our roads, park­ing lots, rooftops, drive­ways and more shunt wa­ter across the sur­face, where it finds a storm drain — and flows to a stream like the Wis­sahickon or a river like the Schuylkill im­me­di­ately and with­out treat­ment. And be­cause the wa­ter picks up such speed, it de­mol­ishes stream and river beds, erod­ing them and churn­ing the sed­i­ment, turn­ing our wa­ter­ways the un­healthy cof­fee color you see af­ter storms.

It is a shame that both the Wa­ter Town Hall and the task force public meet­ing, very closely re­lated events, are oc­cur­ring on the same night, pulling us in two dif­fer­ent di­rec- tions, but there we are.

Wa­ter is quickly emerg­ing as one of the prom­i­nent en­vi­ron­men­tal worries of this era, right up there with cli­mate change, which gar­ners the lion’s share of the press. But with the record Mid­west floods of last week fram­ing the im­por­tance of this is­sue, North­west Philly res­i­dents have two smart places to learn more about wa­ter.

Hope you join me in choos­ing one of them — I’ll be head­ing to the town hall to lis­ten to your ques­tions about wa­ter. As your neigh­bor, I’d like to learn more about what’s on your mind.

And right now, wa­ter is on ev­ery­one’s mind.


The Shaw­mont Swale at Eva Street and Sum­mit Av­enue is part of the city’s “Green City, Clean Wa­ters” plan, as it holds onto stormwa­ter af­ter a rain event, al­low­ing wa­ter to slowly per­co­late un­der­ground in­stead of flooding the nearby Green Tree Run stream.

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